My mum says that from the time I could walk and talk I showed a huge fascination with horses, so much so that everything from my favourite toys to the painted stencils on my bedroom walls were all horsey themed. To be honest, not much has changed now. I mean, my bedroom walls were painted over long ago, but I still have as much, if not more love for horses than I did then.
I started riding lessons when I was about seven. Some of my favourite memories of being a kid are of our Saturday mornings at the ranch. Mum and I used to ride at our local school. It wasn’t a specialist RDA school or anything, but back then I had significantly more vision than I do now, so not much was made of my visual impairment when I started riding because there wasn’t really any need to.
Riding lessons continued pretty consistently while I was growing up, until our local ranch closed so the lessons came to a halt (excuse the pun). I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’m sure there was maybe a three year gap until I started riding regularly again when I was thirteen.
This time we encountered a bit more trouble trying to find me a riding teacher. By then my vision was deteriorating so that I was severely sight impaired. We again approached a local teacher but I remember my dad having to argue my case pretty fervently for me to have lessons; the teacher in question was reluctant to have me at her school because of insurance and health and safety concerns. Thankfully we managed to persuade her to let me ride; I ended up having lessons regularly at that school for around four years and the teacher and I ended up getting on really well.
During that time, my teacher and I developed a number of tactics that enabled me to ride safely and independently, whilst also progressing my skills. I would count the horses strides so that I would know when to turn e.g. sixteen strides in trot along the length of the school before a right turn and ten strides along the with before another right turn and my teacher would stay central throughout and be constantly talking so that I could orientate myself by her voice. She encouraged me mostly to learn to interpret the horse’s movements for myself, so that I could tell by feel if I was walking straight etc. It did a lot for my balance and coordination, especially the dressage stunts involving riding over poles and very precise turns.
I’m really grateful to my parents for helping me pursue horse riding because it’s something that I not only love so much, but it also helped ground me when I was losing a lot of sight as a teenager. At a time when a lot of things were changing for me, when I suddenly couldn’t do a lot of things any more, horse riding was a constant that never changed. It was something active; something physical that took my mind off other things. It was also something I was good at and that I could take pride in at a time when my self-esteem was taking a bit of a beating.
There’s something about horses, being so powerful yet so gentle that really fascinates me. I can think of few things more peaceful than grooming a horse. At the same time, I can think of few things more exhilarating than sitting on a horses back as it canters at top speed. It’s thrilling and so freeing. I struggle to put it into words.
I was lucky enough to own my own horse for a couple of years, but with me leaving home for University we sadly weren’t able to keep him for very long, and a negative experience with uni’s equestrian society meant that I hadn’t ridden a horse for around four years… until today!
Mum and I found a Groupon voucher for a 30-minute private lesson and 1 hour hack at Matchmoor Riding Centre, so we dug out our boots and hats and trotted off to Bolton excited and a little nervous. We didn’t need to be though, because as soon as we got in our saddles it all came flooding back and neither of us stopped smiling the whole time we were there. It really is like riding a bike, it all comes back to you straight away. It’s definitely rekindled my desire to take up riding regularly again as well, I didn’t realise how much I miss it until this afternoon.
The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is a UK charity bringing education, therapy and fun to the lives of disabled people. They hold local RDA groups all over the country that can be a great place to start if you’re interested in horse riding and you have a disability, but they also offer disability awareness training and specific teaching qualifications to riding schools as well, so even if there isn’t an RDA group near you there may be RDA trained teachers at nearby schools. The RDA’s slogan is ‘it’s what you can do that counts’ which I really like; it promotes an ethos that they focus on people’s abilities, rather than their disabilities. Check out their website via the link below:www.rda.org.uk